SHAKUR STEVENSON is making it look easy. He’d won everything going as a Junior and Youth. This year he took the step up to senior international boxing. For some that can be a difficult transition, but not Stevenson. The bantamweight qualified for the Olympic Games, in fact winning the Americas Qualification Event in Argentina.
“To be honest with you the tournaments I fought in as a Youth, Junior, overseas competitions, I felt like that was harder than the Argentina tournament… The Argentina tournament I kind of walked through it,” Stevenson tells Boxing News. “The training for that was hard though.”
In the new look American set up, outstanding Irish coach Billy Walsh is helping to guide the team. They also brought in elite sparring from overseas. Stevenson had been working with none other than Albert Selimov, the vastly experienced lightweight who was the last amateur to beat Vasyl Lomachenko. “They did a good move bringing some overseas fighters from Azerbaijan into our training camp,” Shakur (who’s named after Tupac Shakur) said. “The whole training camp they had me and [Selimov] sparring each other. I didn’t spar anybody else but me and him sparred each other. That was a big help in that training camp… It’s way different. America, I feel like some of us Americans we lack defence sometimes. Defensive-wise he was crazy good. I felt like I was in there with a seasoned pro who knows what they’re doing and I was learning. He was enjoying my work. Me and him had conversations, I was using Google translate, he said he was enjoying my work. He told me that I could win gold in Rio. That was a big help.
“Billy is a great coach, especially as he’s bringing new things in, especially as far as bringing other countries into our training camp. He’s got a different style. I haven’t really fully adjusted to the style yet but I’ve picked up on some things he’s brought to the table. I think he’s a great coach,” Stevenson continued.
With the USA men’s team failing to win a medal at the last Olympics, Shakur is the prospect who’s been tipped to restore American glory. He’s even been getting some pointers from the last man to win an Olympic gold for the US, Andre Ward. “I watch a lot of great pros, like Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather. I watch a lot of him and I study him. I pick up on a
lot of stuff that they do and that helps me out too,” Stevenson said. “Before I qualified to make the USA team, [Andre Ward] called me up on Facetime and gave me a good pep talk. ‘This is your moment, you’ve got to look at it as your moment, don’t let nobody or nothing get in between what you’re doing. You’ve got to stay focused when you get inside that ring, also outside the ring.’ He just gave me a good pep talk and that hyped me up because he’s my favourite boxer. I love Andre Ward.”
A couple of five-rounders in the World Series of Boxing have also given him extra seasoning. “You can tell no countries are going to go in there and rough me up. If you watch my WSB fight with Morocco, it got rough in there and I was able to get rough back. I’ve got enough power to make sure somebody don’t jump on me,” Shakur said.
He’s also beaten talented GB boxer Peter McGrail in the WSB. “I thought I was going to fight Qais [Ashfaq]. So I guess I was preparing for Qais, my training camp was focused on him because I knew who he was and I’ve watched him fight,” the American said. “When I found out I was fighting Peter I thought, ‘This is going to be good’ because I honestly think Peter’s better than Qais. Because I was in the Youth Olympics with Peter… I guess the training camp was good and everything came into place in the ring but it was a good fight. I guess I shone that day. But he’s a great fighter, I swear, I watched him in the Youth Olympics when he lost to the Cuban.”
Stevenson knows he is in a demanding weight class. At the qualifier, he says, “I was expecting to fight the Cuban gold medallist Robeisy Ramirez. I was hoping I was going to fight him. I felt he won the fight but he lost before he got to me.
“Last year we had a coach, Pedro Roco, because he’s a Cuban coach he kept showing me videos and everything on Robeisy Ramirez. Robeisy won everything I did as a Junior and Youth, Youth Olympics, then he came and won an Olympic gold medal.
“I used to watch his videos and it’s crazy that we’re at the same weight right now. I can’t wait to fight him. I hope that we fight for the gold medal in the final in Rio.”
HOW STEVENSON QUALFIED
OUT in Argentina Stevenson had to beat Venezuela’s Jose Diaz in the semi-final to make sure of an Olympic place. “The pressure was on that fight but honestly I didn’t look at it like that. My hardest bout was the Colombian [Luis Ruiz]. He just came, he just brought a lot of pressure,” Shakur said.
The American halted Uruguay’s Mathias Bagnado with a devastating single punch. “I guess my power surprised me,” Shakur adds. “The same day I was telling my team-mate, ‘Man, I can never get a knockout… I don’t think I’m strong enough.’ It felt like a soft punch but as I watched the tape a few times it was right on the button. It felt like a soft punch. It was shocking to me that I could do that. I was surprised by it. I guess I am starting to get my man strength.”
With Argentina’s Alberto Melian receiving the decision against Cuba’s Ramirez, Stevenson had to box the local man in the final. “Robeisy put [Melian] down, I think it was twice in the first round, it might be once but I felt like he had the opportunity to cruise, which he did. He should never have cruised because he made it look like the guy was doing more than what he was doing,” Shakur said. “I made sure I won every single round. Robeisy beat him up the first round and then chilled out, I made sure I won every single round and I did it in convincing fashion.”